Indian Point 3 shuts down again after valve malfunction

By Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, May 29, 2009

BUCHANAN - The Indian Point 3 nuclear reactor automatically shut down yesterday morning after a malfunction in a steamwater valve, the second unplanned stoppage in two weeks.

Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns Indian Point and its two reactors, was working to determine what caused the malfunction and the 6:40 a.m. shutdown.

Entergy officials said no radiation was released and that the event posed no danger to the public or to plant workers.

"People certainly shouldn't be worried," said Jerry Nappi, an Entergy spokesman. "It's not a safety-related issue. During the shutdown the equipment reacted the way you would expect and operators in the control room reacted the way they're trained."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said its inspectors were on hand and monitoring both the plant's actions and follow-up investigation into the incident.

"There are questions that we would like addressed," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. "They did just have the problem, a very similar kind of problem involving the feedwater pumps not that long ago.

"And they did what we call - it's in engineering jargon - but an extensive condition review, where they looked not only at the linkage that was involved in the shutdown on May 15, but they were supposed to look at all of the similar equipment," he said.

"We would want to look at the thoroughness of that and whether there was something that they missed that may have contributed to today's shutdown," Sheehan said.

The reactor is now on "hot standby," which means it is essentially idling but not powered up.

The glitches come as Entergy seeks federal license renewal for both reactors, a process that plant officials said yesterday is about two-thirds complete.

And the plant's safety remains a hot topic for some in the Lower Hudson Valley, including the environmental group Riverkeeper.


"We're always concerned when the plant unexpectedly shuts down," said Deborah Brancato, a staff attorney at Riverkeeper.

"It demonstrates that the facility is continuing to have operational difficulties which are not being adequately identified by Entergy, and it undermines their consistent high safety ratings from the NRC."

Indian Point 2, the plant's other reactor, was shut down April 3 due to a malfunction in a cooling system pipe for steam generators.

Indian Point 3 had run nearly two years without an unplanned shutdown, NRC officials said.

But the reactor was shut down May 15 when a missing lock washer allowed a feedwater valve to loosen and leak - 13 days before yesterday's shutdown.

Sheehan said plant operators noticed a vibration in a main feedwater pump, and powered the reactor down to 60 percent. But by 6:30 a.m. water levels were rising in the steam generator, tripping a safety shutdown in the reactor.

IP3 is now operating at the NRC's highest safety rating, or "green," Sheehan said. Under NRC guidelines, if a reactor has more than three unplanned shutdowns within about one year, that safety rating can be downgraded.

"We're always interested in trends involving plant operation, and that's why one of the performance indicators is number of unplanned scrams or shutdowns per 7,000 hours of operation," Sheehan said. "As of the end of the first quarter of 2009 they had zero unplanned scrams. Now they've had two in rapid succession, basically.

"And if you have more than three, then your performance indicators would change from 'green' to 'white' and you would get additional NRC oversight," he said. "So they would be at two now."

IP2 was shut down June 4 when a voltage control mechanism on its main steam generator had to be removed and replaced.

"We'll continue to keep our eyes open and see if it happens again," Brancato said of yesterday's shutdown. "These types of occurrences are why we were eager to become involved in the relicensing, and it's why we're pursuing these types of safety-related issues."